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Sean Shibe (guitar)
rec. April and November 2020, Crichton Church, Scotland
Reviewed as downloaded from press preview.
PENTATONE PTC5186870 [56:20]

Sean Shibe has already earned himself a considerable reputation with his recordings of Bach - review - Summer 2020 - and the superb disc entitled Softloud (Delphian DCD34213). This new recording, his first for Pentatone, can only enhance his standing because it is terrific.

Musically it centres around Mompou but, typically, Shibe has other matters on his mind in shaping the programme. Rather than evoke the pain or loneliness of lockdown, he says, he has chosen works that console. One of the great successes of this CD is that quietness and gentleness are more consoling than any warmer response.

I think it says something about an age when interest in a neglected composer is revived. The Sixties, for example, were the perfect era for renewed interest in the eclectic, visionary music of Mahler. What the current revival of the music of Mompou says about our time is an intriguing question. Despite Shibe’s insistence in his liner notes on a humanistic element to the composer’s work, I suspect that what appeals about Mompou is a spirituality of a quiet order in stark contrast to the loudness and shallowness of much of modern culture. Shibe’s title, Camino, refers to the old pilgrimage way to Compostela, a route whose present-day popularity parallels that of Mompou’s music. I suspect that those who walk the Camino have the same spiritual longings as those who take an interest in this composer’s quiet subtle compositions.

On the surface, some of the inclusions on the programme are close to the hackneyed. Aren’t the Gymnopodies or Ravel’s Pavane a little bit too obvious? It turns out not at all. To begin with, their mood matches the mood of the whole perfectly. Secondly, heard in the context of the Mompou, new aspects of this incredibly familiar music are revealed. The Satie, in particular, is refreshed by juxtaposition with the Mompou and Shibe’s touch is immaculate. Throughout the disc, his sensitivity to tone colour stops a rather downbeat selection of pieces from ever becoming monotonous. By this I do not mean that Shibe offers a gaudy mess of psychedelic colours. We are dealing here with a sophisticated variety of pastel shades.

It might seem an odd kind of compliment but it is Shibe’s elegant constraint that allows this recording to work so well. There is no hint of ersatz flamenco cliches. At first I thought that the opening track, the Miller’s Dance from De Falla’s Three Cornered Hat, lacked a little in flair but Shibe’s straight approach is clearly designed to go beyond stereotypes. No donkeys in sombreros allowed!

In his notes, Shibe speaks of melancholy and aimlessness in Mompou as feelings to be felt and cherished and that seems to me the heart of this magical album. Nothing is fixed or resolved. Grand gestures are eschewed. As indicated earlier, the choice of other works has been made to sustain and complement this mood. Mompou is a composer who celebrates what is usually overlooked or taken for granted. I would argue that he doesn’t even deal with anything as extreme as melancholy but an interim state that is simultaneously not melancholy but not free of melancholy either. Shibe captures these fugitive feelings with almost effortless grace combined with dignity and poise.

The core of this recording is Mompou’s Suite Compostelana, from which the collection gets its name. Written in 1962 for Segovia, it is a substantial work in Mompou’s insubstantial way. Much of the first half of Shibe’s programme seems to act as a way of quietening the mind to listen really attentively to this quietly murmuring music. Under Shibe’s fingers, it is revealed as one of Mompou’s finest inspirations.

I cannot conceive of a better way of recording the classical guitar than the sound on this disc. It plays a crucial part in allowing all of Shibe’s almost limitless subtleties of tone or rhythm or melody to shine.

I am not sure any comparisons are particularly meaningful with such a personal recording. My mind kept going to Volodos’ magical recording of Mompou’s piano music (Sony 88765433262 – review: Recording of the Month – review). If you know that record, then you will need little encouragement from me to rush out and order this new CD. They make a beautiful pair.

David McDade

Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)
Danza del molinero (from El Sombrero de tres picos) [3:13]
Antonio JOSÉ (1902-1946)
Pavana triste (third movement of Sonata for Guitar) [4:50]
Frederic (Frederico) MOMPOU (1893-1987)
Canço i dansa 10 (arr Mompou): Canço [1:44]
Canço i dansa 10: Dansa [1:34]
Erik SATIE (1866-1925)
Gymnopédie No 1 [3:02]
Gnossienne No 1 [3:17]
Gnossienne No  3 [2:48]
Frederic MOMPOU
Canço i dansa 6:
Canço [1:54]
Dansa [2:40]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1938)
Pavane pour une Infante défunte [6:30]
Manuel de FALLA
Homenaje, pour Le Tombeau de Claude Debussy [3:59]
Frederic MOMPOU
Suite compostelana:
I Preludio [3:08]
II Coral [2:42]
III Cuna [3:01]
IV Recitativo [3:18]
V Canción [2:32]
VI Muñeira [3:19]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Sarabande FP179 [2:38]

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